10 Year GC Holder: Leave U.S. For Over 6 Months But Under 1 Year and Naturalization

Can you leave the U.S. for over 6 months but under 1 year and still apply for naturalization? Technically yes, you can travel outside of the United States for over 6 months. You may be taking a risk when applying for naturalization (N-400) because it can disrupt the period of continuous residence and you will lose the time in the U.S. towards US citizenship except for 364 days.

The 10 year green card residency requirement is something that many immigrants aren’t aware of until they apply for their naturalization. This can cause them to delay their application until they meet this requirement.

If your trip is not for an emergency and you are concerned that it will affect your citizenship eligibility, you should wait until your application for naturalization is approved. However, in some cases if you still maintain ties such as bank accounts, a home and a job that you plan on returning to the USCIS may not count your absence towards a break in continuous residency.

Personally, I wouldn’t risk living abroad for that long when I’m getting ready to apply for naturalization. If it can’t be avoided try to make the trip less than a year. When you have a green card, it isn’t a guarantee that you will always have it. It can be revoked for certain circumstances such as if you commit a felony or break some other immigration law.

The only status that I believe is secure in the U.S. is complete citizenship.

Leaving For More Than 6 Months And Denied Re-entry

So, will you have difficulty re-entering the United States if you’ve been abroad for more than 6 months? No, if you are a LPR (legal permanent resident) you cannot be denied entry into the United States. But, CBP can refer you to immigration court and ask an immigration judge to revoke your green card. There is still some risk involved because there were two cases that have been processed in the last 3 years where LPRs were denied entry.

Update 2/2/2017: president Trump has signed a law banning visa holders from entering the US from 7 specific countries.
A green card holder remains an LPR until an immigration judge makes a determination that they are no longer an LPR. All LPRs have the legal right to a hearing before an immigration judge. At the absolute worst, you can be held in detention by CBP until they can have a hearing in front of an immigration judge, but you cannot be flat-out denied entry into the U.S. You would only be detained if your inadmissibility stemmed from a serious crime conviction; most would simply be paroled into the U.S. until their immigration court hearing.
Again, your fate will be in the hands of a CBP officer and immigration judge. Why take the risk if you ultimately want to apply for citizenship? Once you have your U.S. passport you can live abroad as long as you want to.

Reasons You Can Be Denied Entry Back Into The United States

Many green card holders think that they have all the rights of a U.S. citizen except to vote and get a passport. Guess what? That is completely wrong. Your rights are temporary until congress or the president changes the laws. At the airport or border, a CBP officer can also deny entry due to infectious disease. Yes, there are other reasons for which an a green card holder can be denied entry, however, without a judicial order.

  • If there is a risk of having contracted a communicable disease (like TB).
  • Conditional permanent residence (2 year green card) can be denied entry if their marriage has ended.
  • Other reasons may require judicial order of removal but some don’t.

If you are denied re-entry into the U.S., the first thing you should do is contact an immigration attorney. They will review your case and let you know why you were denied and how to overcome it. Of course, it’s not guaranteed that they will get you back into the U.S. but it’s a good idea to get a consultation with one.

You may be impacted even if your 10 year green isn’t due to expire anytime soon. This is why I say that having a green card still isn’t very secure status in the U.S.

Final Thoughts

If you have a green card, you will need to be careful how long you stay outside the United States. You must keep your residence within the U.S. if you plan to apply for U.S. citizenship so that you meet the 10 year green card residency requirement. If not, you run the risk of being denied citizenship until you meet this requirement.

Once eligible for U.S. citizenship, I recommend that you apply right away. Yes, it’s an additional expense but it’s worth it to protect your rights to live and work in the United States. It’s extremely difficult for the U.S. government to take away someone’s citizenship but it only takes a swipe of a pen to take away your green card.
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